Engineer Wages Advertising War Against Aluminium Factories

ISAL aluminium smelter

Electrical engineer Reynir Þór Eyvindsson has bought advertising time for a period of some years on national broadcaster RÚV during the holidays, with the intention of reminding the nation of some inconvenient truths about aluminium production in Iceland.

His advertisements come in response to what he identifies as a preponderance of aluminium industry PR in the media during the holidays, which could be seen as “greenwashing” an activity that has a worse environmental impact than many may think.

Aluminium production is a highly energy-intensive industry which has found a home in Iceland thanks to the supply of green electricity. Environmental critics, however, have pointed out that the use of geothermal and hydroelectric power do not simply neutralise the environmental impact of this industry.

iceland aluminium
Screensot – RÚV

The text of the advertisements reads in English: “Icelandic Aluminium Plants: Pay very little in taxes. Emit twice as much CO2 as the entire automobile fleet.  Around 1.5 million tonnes of toxic sludge are produced annually. This could fill the outdoor swimming pool at Laugardalur 1,500 times over. Happy New Year, Reynir Eyvindsson.”

In a statement to Morgunblaðið, Reynir said: “This is a highly political issue. Not everyone agrees that this highly polluting industry should be here.”

Reynir admits that advertising slots on RÚV during the holidays are rather expensive, but he says he doesn’t have much else to do with his money. He pays for the advertisements out of his own pocket, but recognises that they may not stand up to the production quality of the aluminium industry’s professional advertisements. Nevertheless, he counts the money as well spent.

Read more about protecting Iceland’s environment here.

East Iceland to Open First Local University

east Iceland university Reyðarfjörður Egilsstaðir

Residents of East Iceland will be able to pursue university studies locally for the first time next year thanks to a program being jointly developed by Reykjavík University and the University of Akureyri. Instruction will take place in the town of Reyðarfjörður and will emphasise on-site teaching of technical subjects rather than distance learning. Local industry representatives say there is a need for university-educated staff in technical disciplines. RÚV reported first.

Reykjavík University will already begin offering preparatory studies for higher education in East Iceland this autumn, with university-level studies set to be offered starting in 2022. The program is being set up in collaboration with the University of Akureyri (located in North Iceland), continuing education centre Austurbrú, and representatives from the local business community, including the seafood and aluminium industries, two of the region’s main employers. While West and North Iceland have offered local university studies for some time, such higher education has not been available in the eastern region.

“The supply of distance learning has increased greatly in recent years and that is very positive. But Reykjavík University has always had the unique position of prioritising on-site learning, focusing on group projects, focusing on very direct connections with instructors and teachers, with the business community, and thus building their knowledge and knowledge within the community without having to leave the area,” Ari Kristinn Jónsson, Rector of Reykjavík University, stated. “This is something we have done elsewhere in the country and it has succeeded brilliantly and we look forward to seeing it thrive, grow, and prosper here in East Iceland.”

The seafood industry and Alcoa’s Fjarðaál aluminium factory are two of the region’s main employers, and both industries require staff with technical training at the university level. Several local businesses have founded a joint scholarship to support students in the program. “It’s very important for us who are running large companies here in the east to get this education in the area.” Dagmar Ýr Stefánsdóttir, Communications and Social Affairs Director at Alcoa-Fjarðarál, stated.

Aluminium Workers’ Contract Hinges on Price of Energy

ISAL aluminium smelter Straumsvík

Three hundred workers in Rio Tinto’s ISAL aluminium smelter could see their collective agreement nullified in June if the National Power Company and Rio Tinto do not reach an agreement about the cost of power supplied to the smelter, RÚV reports. The National Power Company’s CEO says it is “unreasonable” for the contract to hinge on that factor, but says the company will not let it impact their negotiations with Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto says energy costs hamper competitiveness

The workers’ collective agreement, which was signed in March, is valid for two years. It contains a clause, however, that makes it invalid as of June 30 if an energy supply contract has not been renegotiated between Rio Tinto and the National Power Company. The ISAL smelter, located in Southwest Iceland, has been running at a loss for the past eight years, and its executives point to high energy costs as one of the reasons.

National Power Company CEO Hörður Arnarson says his company did not know about the contract clause until it was reported on yesterday by Morgunblaðið. “I find it a very unreasonable development, both in collective agreement negotiations and in negotiations of energy contracts, to connect two unrelated parties in this way,” Hörður stated. “The only reason I can see for doing this is that they believe it will put added pressure on the National Power Company, but it won’t have that effect.”

“These are difficult conditions. Markets are closing for them,” Hörður added. “We will look for ways to find a common solution but it’s completely unclear whether we will agree on one.”

Smelter may close for two years

Rio Tinto is considering suspending production at the ISAL plant for two years due to the downturn in the market caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The metal and mining company is also preparing a lawsuit against Iceland’s National Power Company intended to release Rio Tinto from a large part of the electricity purchase obligation to which it is subject.

The ISAL smelter is one of the largest employers in the town of Hafnarfjörður and according to its mayor, has a “synergistic effect on other companies in town.”

Rio Tinto Considers Suspending Production at Iceland Aluminium Smelter

ISAL aluminium smelter

Rio Tinto is considering suspending production at its Straumsvík smelter in Iceland for two years, Morgunblaðið reports. The company, which is one of the world’s largest metal and mining corporations, is considering various options to reduce its losses during the economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rio Tinto executives have also complained that high power costs have contributed to the company’s losses and are preparing a lawsuit against Iceland’s National Power Company.

Rio Tinto’s ISAL aluminium smelter, located in Southwest Iceland, has been operating at a loss for eight years. Its losses in 2019 alone amounted to ISK 13 billion ($91 million/83.7 million). Rio Tinto Aluminium chief executive Alf Barrios stated earlier this year that the smelter’s performance “is currently unprofitable and cannot compete in the challenging market conditions due to its high power costs.”

Prepare to sue Iceland’s National Power Company

Morgunblaðið’s sources report that the metal corporation is preparing a lawsuit against Iceland’s National Power Company, which is intended to release Rio Tinto from a large part of the electricity purchase obligation to which it is subject. The lawsuit also addresses alleged “product fraud” on the part of the National Power Company, which Rio Tinto alleges has been selling the smelter energy produced by coal and nuclear power, while the company purchased the energy on the grounds that it was produced using hydropower.

Aluminiumwerke verursachen Moossterben

Aluminiumfabriken in Isand verschmutzen die umliegende Natur derart, dass Pflanzen dort absterben.

Sigurður H. Magnússon, ein Pflanzenökologe beim isländischen Institut für Naturgeschichte, hat gestern eine Studie über die Verschmutzung der Aluminiumwerke veröffentlicht. Zu den giftigen Stoffen, die die Werke in die Natur entlassen, gehören unter anderem Blei, Nickel, Arsen und Antimon, berichtet RÚV.

Die Studie hatte im ganzen Land das Vorkommen von Schwermetallen und Sulfur im Moos gemessen. Die Messungen hatten im Jahr 1990 begonnen und liefen bis zum Jahr 2015, jeweils im Fünfjahresrhythmus. Rings um die Aluminiumwerke wurde die Pflanzenwelt besonders überwacht.

Das Moos war an manchen Orten ganz verschwunden, wie etwa in Straumsvík und in Grundartangi. An einigen Orten in Reyðarfjörður ist der Bewuchs signifikant zurückgegangen.” An allen drei genannten Orten befinden sich Aluminiumwerke.

Wir sind besonders besorgt über den Bleigehalt, weil Blei für den Menschen nicht besonders förderlich ist,” erklarte Sigurður. Das Interview mit ihm hatte im Industriegebiet in Hafnarfjörður stattgefunden, ganz in der Nähe des Aluminiumwerkes Straumsvík. Die Verschmutzung in dem Gebiet ist besorgniserregend, weil die Fabrik neben einem vielbesuchten Naherholungsgebiet im Lavafeld Hellnahraun liegt.

Wir müssen alle Faktoren mit einbeziehen, wenn wir Industrieorte schaffen, weil das grosse Auswirkungen haben kann,” sagt er.

Etagenmoos (Hylocomium splendens) ist eine der beiden Moosarten, die untersucht wurden. “Das ist nirgendwo mehr zu finden. Es war definitiv hier in dem Gebiet. Aber es ist verschwunden, und das Laubmoos (Racomitrium) ist schwer beschädigt.” führt Sigurður weiter aus.

Die Aluminiumindustrie verzeichnet den höchsten Energieverbrauch im Land. Island liegt weltweit auf dem neunten Platz in der Liste der aluminiumproduzierenden Länder. Drei Fabriken gibt es, wie schon erwähnt, im Land, dazu gehören Straumsvík vor den Toren von Hafnarfjörður, Grundartangi im Hvalfjörður und Reyðarfjörður in Ostisland.

Das umstrittene Wasserkraftwerk Kárahnjúkarvirkjun im ostisländischen Hochland war gebaut worden, um das Aluminiumwerk in Reyðarfjörður mit Energie zu versorgen. Für das Kraftwerk sind riesige Gebiete im Hochland in einer Talsperre versenkt worden. Wie der Ökoaktivist und Journalist Ómar Ragnarsson bei Flügen über der Talsperre zeigen konnte, wirbeln von den ausgetrockneten Ufern der Talsperre im Sommer oft gigantische Feinstaubwolken über das Land.





Pollution Kills Moss Surrounding Aluminium Plants

Aluminium plants around the country pollute the surrounding areas, killing moss around the plants. Sigurður H. Magnússon, a vegetation ecologist at the Icelandic Institute of Natural History, published the results of a study on the pollution of aluminium plants yesterday. Among the chemicals which the plants pollute into the surrounding areas is lead, nickel, arsenic, and antimon, RÚV reports.

The study monitors the prevalence of heavy metals and sulphur in moss around the country. The monitoring started in 1990 and lasted until 2015, with measurements taking place at five-year intervals. Special monitoring takes place around various aluminium plants. “The moss has disappeared in some places, such as Straumsvík and in Grundartangi as well, while the moss has receded significantly in a couple of places in Reyðarfjörður.” All three aforementioned areas are home to aluminium plants.

“We’re especially worried about the lead as that material is very unfavourable to humans,” Sigurður stated. He was interviewed by RÚV at an industrial area in Hafnarfjörður, close to the Straumsvík aluminium plant. The pollution in the area is worrying as the plant affects a populated area in Helnnahraun lava field. “We have to consider all factors when we’re establishing industry, as it has considerable effect,” he said.

Glittering wood moss is one of the two moss species which are inspected. “It cannot be found here anymore. It was definitely in the area. But it has disappeared and the lamb’s wool moss which is here is significantly damaged,” Sigurður stated about the area surrounding the Straumsvík plant.

Aluminium in Iceland

The aluminium industry in the country is the most power-intensive one. Iceland is in 9th place among aluminium-producing nations worldwide. The three plants in the country are situated in Straumsvík, close to Hafnarfjörður. The others are situated in Grundartangi and Reyðarfjörður. The controversial Kárahnjúkar power plant in East Iceland was built to power the plant in Reyðarfjöður, putting swathes of the highlands under water.